“And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face…” With these words the full session of Conference began as they have since the days of John Wesley when he chose his brother’s song to begin their annual conferences.
I must say that this was the moment I have been waiting for all year. I got to sing along with Methodists from around the world just a couple of tube stops from the place where John Wesley organized the people called Methodist and breathed his last breath. It was a very special moment.
Methodism was the theme of the conference on its opening day. There were two Charles Wesley hymns, and a few others referenced. John Wesley’s “Field Bible” was given to the new President and a copy of one the original hymnals to the Vice-President. The ultimate moment for me came when the delegates from Methodist churches around the world were welcomed. To see the many different faces of Methodism from many different countries on all six continents was amazing.
Being in this country has made me even more aware of the worldwide membership of the Methodist Connexion. While the UMC is a very international denomination, it often feels very American and we rarely hear from our Central Conferences in other countries. This is truly a shame. In the “West” where church membership in mainline denominations is falling, the churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including the Methodists, are in a revival. There is a passion and excitement which has many parallels to that of 18th Century England. Wesley said that God raised up the people called Methodist to “reform the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” Methodist are a people who have always gone out with revival in minds and the love of God in their hearts.
Somehow in the midst of being a church we have forgotten how to be, as is a common refrain in British Methodism, “A discipleship movement shaped for mission ” We as a Church that was birthed out of the passion and enthusiasm of a reform movement. Our world Methodist friends help to remind us of the enthusiasm that comes from being a truly mission-minded church.
These themes were echoed in the addresses of both the new President Ruth Gee and the new Vice-President Daleep Mukarji. Rev. Gee reminded the church that we are a people who are called to wait expectantly for “glimpses of the glory of God.” You can read her full speech here. Dr. Mukarji’s report was a prophetic call to the Church to speak out on behalf of the poor (It can be found here). In a conference where applause is almos non-existant, his rousing address brought the audience to their feet. Taken together, both reports represent the very fundamentals of our Methodist identity: A theology rooted in hope, grace, and a confidence in the glory of God combined with a deep seated commitment to social justice and being alongside those who are forgotten and neglected by society, but deeply loved by God. These two sides of our movement have always been present when we have been at our best, and it is my hope that under the leadership of Ruth and Daleep they will both be present in equal measure. It is also my hope that the revival that is going on around the world, and I feel is immanent in Britain will have a ripple effect in my own country and in my own UMC. If we are going to be the people God raised us up to be, then we need to do it together as the people called Methodist around the world. Amen.